Ryan A. Koons | About | RyanAKoons.com
Ryan A. Koons' biography, research, performance, pedagogy, and film work.
biography, ethnomusicology, musicology, performance, scholarship, performance, music, dance, film, Ryan Koons
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Scholar | Performer | Educator | Filmmaker

Questions of sound, performance, relationship, and personhood unify my work. I am an ethnomusicologist, performer, teacher, and filmmaker. My academic publications focus on why and how a variety of communities make music. In addition to a doctorate in ethnomusicology from UCLA, my training includes years learning from tradition bearers in diverse performance styles. I have performed around the world, in China, Mexico, South Africa, and at home in the US. I have taught at academic research institutions, in liberal arts college settings, at folk music schools, and private music lessons. As part of my efforts to study and safeguard intangible cultural heritage, I make films to educate audiences about little-known traditions. Examples of my work can be found in my Portfolio, Academia.edu, and LinkedIn.



My research broadly examines questions of performance: why and how peoples perform and with whom. I deliberately straddle the line between ethnomusicology and musicology, drawing on both ethnographic and historical research methods: observation-participation, AV documentation, oral history-style interviews, and archival study. To date, I have collaborated with and published on the ecological ritualism of a Florida-based American Indian tribal town, early music performance communities, Scandinavian diaspora, South African anti-apartheid activists, and others. My research relationships involve activist components, for example, helping to create the Apalachicola community archive, creating and publishing a promotional video for the Washington Spelmanslag, or promoting positive ecological relationships through improved connections with nonhumans like plants, animals, and landscapes.


I grew up in a Celtic family band. While pursing formal music lessons in school, I also learned from my parents and other musicians. I came to appreciate learning from the source, and I have since connected with and learned from tradition bearers in diverse musical styles. My strengths lie in voice, notably baroque countertenor performance practice, and bowed strings, notably northern and eastern European fiddle styles and the Swedish nyckelharpa (“keyed fiddle”). Vocally and instrumentally, I perform Celtic and Scandinavian traditional music, early music, Bulgarian tradition music, and other styles.


I design curricula in which students make music, speak with tradition bearers, handle historical documents, and travel. In my classrooms, I have introduced students, for example, to Indigenous worldviews by placing them in contact with native speakers in order to conduct mini-ethnographies. Interacting with new people and concepts in new environments facilitates students learning from their own experiences. I am currently a lecturer in the Department of Musicology and the Department of World Arts & Cultures at UCLA. I teach courses in ethnomusicology, music history/musicology, film, Indigenous Studies, LGBT Studies, and other areas. I also have experience directing and conducting music ensembles, and I teach private one-on-one music lessons, especially in voice and stringed instruments.


As a filmmaker, I co-direct and make films with World Community Productions. This multi-media production company focuses on educational materials for and about communities. As an ethnographer, my fieldwork often results in large amounts of AV footage on musical traditions and interviews explaining these traditions. Documentary film becomes an effective medium through which to educate audiences about these traditions, and a practical way to safeguard intangible cultural heritage.